Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Gladwell on the Politics of Outliers

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My interview with Malcolm Gladwell/write-up of Outliers went up on the AARP Bulletin site yesterday (clearly, we’re not really so big on the whole timeliness thing). If you’re at all interested in Outliers, I’m sure you’ve already read all there is to read about it, and my article has little new to recommend it (clearly, I’m not really so big on the whole self-promotion thing, either). Regardless, a little passage that might be of interest:

“There were brilliant people who just never made it in the world because they hit the Depression at the wrong time and they hit the Second World War at the wrong time,” Gladwell says. “Let’s be clear: The world is not fair. It’s always going to provide more opportunities for some than others.”

“The reason we have government and institutions that create policy is to try and even that up,” he continues. “The world sets up these inherent advantages for some and these enormous disadvantages for others. You’ve got to level the playing field.”

For someone who started his career at the conservative American Spectator and counted William F. Buckley among his heroes during adolescence, Gladwell professes what may seem a surprising faith in government intervention.

“I used to be a conservative, and I am no longer,” Gladwell says. “But I don’t think of this book as being political one way or the other. It’s a defense of collective action. When I think of the proper role of government, it is to provide opportunities for people to help themselves.”


Written by Elizabeth

December 17, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Posted in My Life, Self-Promotion

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. Great write up on Gladwell and his wonderful book Outliers. It’s this great myth out there that the successful have done it through shear will and determination. And to a large extent that is what determines greatness. But Gladwell points out that that’s not the end of the story.

    I agree with Gladwell in that governments role ought to be removing the obstacles that confront people on their road to success. If we can level the playing field by providing healthcare, a college education, and security for all, more people will have a chance at success.


    December 17, 2008 at 6:58 pm

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